Conservation Society Shines High Beams on Architecture from Golden Age of Autos

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By Iris Dimmick

They are so commonplace, so expected, that a typical passenger riding down Broadway wouldn’t even notice what historians and architects are calling “treasures.” But this Saturday, the San Antonio Conservation Society hopes to illustrate why these old motel signs, drive-thru restaurants, drive-in theaters, gas stations and a mini-golf course need preservation and recognition at a seminar and self-guided tour of local historic landmarks.

 

“When the automobile began to dominate our lifestyle, it also dominated our architectural landscape,” said San Antonio Conservation Society President Nancy Avellar, “These (structures) are representative of an important period of our history.”

 

The sign is all that remains of the Silver Dollar Motel off the Austin HIghway. Photo Courtesy of Michele Johnson.

However, most modern city development plans have begun to emphasize the importance of clustering working, living, and leisure into centralized areas in order to reduce transportation by car and encouraging bicycle and pedestrian corridors. This new philosophy of mixed-use development leaves little room for drive-thru restaurants – which may lead to more peeling paint and demolished out-of-use buildings.

These structures aren’t necessarily designed by famous architects using classical techniques, nor are they especially impressive aesthetically. So why keep them?

“It’s not so much about aesthetics, it’s about (historical) culture,” Avellar said, “These things are landmarks now.”

The dilapidated Steele Motel. Photo courtesy of Stuart Johnson, San Antonio Conservation Society preservation field representative.

The seminar, “Roadside Treasures – Buildings of the Automotive Era,” will feature keynote speaker Chester Liebs, author of Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture. Liebs is an adjunct professor of historic preservation and regionalism at the University of New Mexico. Representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Historical Commission will lead panel discussions about local preservation locations and efforts.

Registration for the event at El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel (110 Lexington Avenue), closes Wednesday, Sept 12, register at www.saconservation.org.

The event starts at 11 a.m. with a box lunch, then continues until 4 p.m. with keynote and panel discussion. A self-guided tour starts from the El Tropicano and ends with a reception at Olmos Bharmacy.

Adult tickets: $20, Students: $10

For additional information contact Stuart Johnson at sjohnson@saconservation.org or call (210) 224-6163.

Photo courtesy of Michele Johnson.

A typical 1940’s Gulf Oil station located on West Southcross. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Conservation Society.

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